Young players encouraged to focus on healthy diets

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and the New Zealand Rugby Players Association (NZRPA) are expanding education for young players to encourage them to adopt the right nutritional habits early on in their rugby careers.NZR and NZRPA emphasise that a good diet will deliver far greater benefits for young players than using supplements. 

“If players want to be in the best possible shape to do well in rugby, then they need to get their diets right,” said NZR General Manager Rugby Neil Sorensen. “Effective training and recovery, coupled with healthy eating, are the key ingredients to performing to your best.”

As part of their existing young player education and awareness programmes, the two organisations are distributing a tip sheet on supplements to young players and secondary schools coaches and players. In early 2016 NZR and NZRPA will launch a comprehensive online and face-to-face campaign on supplements, nutrition and anti-doping.

Liam Messam promotes healthy “Food First” campaign.

The online education module, which will be rolled out across secondary schools early next year, will include All Black Liam Messam’s “Food First” advice based on a normal day in the life of a professional player.

His simple message to young players is: “Don’t feel peer pressure to take supplements because your friend or someone else in your team is taking them. Keep it simple. Eat a good balanced diet.” 

The campaign encourages players to consume a varied, nutrient rich and complete diet based largely around whole natural foods filled with carbohydrates, protein, quality fats and micro-nutrients.

Caution on supplements

NZR and NZRPA cautioned against young players using supplements in a joint position statement on the issue. 

They said there was some evidence to suggest young players were using supplements in order to gain the physique they think they needed to play well.

“The benefits to health and performance claimed by many of the supplements are either exaggerated or unproven,” said Sorensen.

“Taking supplements involves great risks,” said NZRPA Chief Executive Rob Nichol.

“Some supplements can be hazardous to health by increasing heart rate and heart stress, increasing blood pressure and damaging kidneys. There’s also the risk that some may contain banned substances, which could jeopardise a player’s career as the penalties for taking banned substances under Anti-doping regulations, even inadvertently, are severe.

“Unless a player is part of a fully professional high performance environment in which supplements are batch tested and their use monitored by qualified sports nutritionists we do not recommend players take them. The risks of contamination are significant and not well understood by young players, parents and schools.

“Having Liam and other players talking to the young guys is fantastic,” said Sorensen. “Liam is a proven athlete, a true professional and top player that young men will respect and listen to. We hope they take on board his advice.” 

New Zealand Secondary Schools Rugby Council Chairman Garry Chronican said expanding education to younger players made good sense. “There’s no room for complacency on this issue. Young players, parents and coaches need to be reminded that the best path towards a career in rugby is to get the basics right first and a healthy diet is one key ingredient.”

Don’t feel peer pressure to take supplements because your friend or someone else in your team is taking them. Keep it simple. Eat a good balanced diet.